Atemi: what it is?

Atemi is a special form of strikes that different in their purpose and execution technique. Concept of atemi strikes is Japanese in its origin, but its element can be found in every martial art that intended for real combat.

What is so special about it?

When purpose of punch in boxing is to inflict the maximum damage on adversary and punching used in serial combinations (one following another), atemi strikes are, more often then not, a single strike following by non-striking technique and it’s not always designed to inflict damage.

Atemi can be of one of two types: 
  • Distracting 
  • Disabling 

The goal of distracting atemi is… well – distracting.

Most of Aikido throwing techniques are starting with the distracting atemi. Its role is to divert attention of the opponent to the point of strike and, in some cases, to generate backward reaction that will create favorable dynamics for starting motion of the technique. In a real fight it may be more then one distracting atemi if the first one didn’t created needed reaction. It may look like a serial strikes, but it's not because, unlike in boxing or karate serial, non-striking technique will be performed as soon as needed reaction has been created.

As inflicting the real damage in a distracting atemi is not important, the key technical criteria are retaining balance and good posture for performing primary, non-striking, technique.

The disabling atemi is designed to finish the fight. It used in striking martial arts as well as in non-striking. Disabling atemi targeting vulnerable points of the adversary’s body that became open target as a result of an error (missing surprise attack, for example), or in a follow-up of a successful non-atemi attack (whatever striking or non-striking).

While disabling atemi needs to be executed with enough power to inflict significant physical damage they don’t need to be as strong as good boxing or karate strikes as they targeted vulnerable points of the body that left unprotected.

The key technical properties of atemi, ether distracting or disabling, is to be quick, precise, and agile. The proper boxing or karate strikes designed for maximum power are rarely effective as atemi (can only be used in “finishing” of already defeated adversary – case that has nothing to do with self-defense). The short strikes with open fist, base of palm, blade of hand, and nukite are most effective.

Bruce Lee one-inch-punch is excellent atemi technique that should be included in any self-defense training.

The other point in teaching atemi strikes in self-defense class is to take into account that your students have some other things to do in their life. Training effort should be concentrated not on development of strike power, but on refining accuracy, speed, and timing of application.

Board breaking is not something that everyone embraces – I won’t, for example. To have hand injury for musician, dentist, or surgeon means the end of a professional career, for everyone else it’s at least a big nuisance (this I’m talking from the first-hand experience). Powerful proper boxing straight punch has been developed just in the beginning of 20th century on the top of Marquess of Queensberry rules from 1867 that introduced padded gloves. Karate training with striking post indeed implying purposeful deformation of a hand to create enforced striking zone. Both approaches are questionable in the modern civilian self-defense training as extensive use of gloves diverting technical development from practical application toward sport application, and karate-style hand “hardening” suited only hard-core martial-artists.



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